I started using WhatsApp in 2012 and frankly, it was the greatest thing ever at the time. I could communicate with family and friends without the need of texting them since at the time, sending SMS was not as cheap. I only needed a data bundle subscription to send as many texts and media (photos and videos) as possible.
WhatsApp solved a problem back then. It was the next generation of instant messaging services and its simplicity of use meant that its adoption increased exponentially, especially in Africa. Couple that with the fact that it was available on multiple platforms (Nokia Series 40, Series 60, Symbian, Blackberry, Android, Windows Phone and iOS), it meant that you didn’t need to be in an ecosystem to enjoy it (cough! Blackberry Messenger. cough!)
Fast forward to today, WhatsApp is now a behemoth with 1.5 billion users. It was bought in 2014 by Facebook for a record company sum and has stuck to its simple roots. Yes we now have video calling, voice calls, chat pinning, WhatsApp Status Updates and improved media handling, but it was generally felt the same.
My biggest gripe with WhatsApp is how it seems to be ancient when it comes to certain features when compared to other messaging platforms.
The first one being WhatsApp glaring lack of being cloud first. For the last 9 years or so, WhatsApp has always been phone first: Chats, documents and other forms of media are stored on the phone, which was okay initially but now it is unacceptable. Thanks to the cloud, you are assured that your chats and media files don’t get lost when you switch phones. This is a problem on WhatsApp and although they gave us the ability to back up chats and media on Google Drive, this is still a half hearted workaround to a major problem.
If WhatsApp solves the cloud problem, it could unlock other features. They would let people share bigger files over to one another (currently the limit is 100MB for files compared to Telegram’s 1.5GB). We could have Secret Chat which is instrumental while sharing sensitive information.
There is also a lot of work to be done on WhatsApp’s other features, especially in groups. For some weird reason, muting never seems to work on groups, which is annoying since you can get a barrage of notifications when you log back in. We also lack some features like hiding your phone number when you are added to a strange group or having the option to decline a request to be added to a group. Fortunately, WhatsApp has been taking an interest in groups by updating it with a few features but there is still a lot of work to be done here.
Finally there is the issue of latest trends. Traditionally, WhatsApp has been quite choosy in what it updates the app and has made it feel quite dated. For example Telegram has bot support and developers have created a variety of bots that do different things. Telegram also has a gaming platform where you can play native games on the instant messaging app. Telegram has support for fingerprint authentication, theming, creating channels and a ‘saved messages’ where you can send yourself content which you can access from multiple platforms.
Piling features is great and all, but I’d not want a scenario where WhatsApp turns into Facebook Messenger. Messenger feels as modern as Telegram yet it has become a bloated mess. However, I believe WhatsApp has the ability to add such features above, especially making chats cloud based, fixing groups and adding bots would make it feel like it is not in 2012.